It’s 2013 — nearly 10 years after the founding of Flickr and more than a year after Facebook bought Instagram — and yet we still can’t seem to find the perfect way to store and share photos.
Well, here comes Linea, a new Seattle startup that just scored $4 million in angel financing from undisclosed investors. The company is led by Rowland Hobbs, a Bellevue High School grad and former Whitman College student who previously founded the branding, design and marketing firm Post+Beam.
We caught up with Hobbs via email to learn more about Linea, and how it plans to differentiate itself from the many other players in the photo sharing place, including Flickr and Instagram. The company, which employs 11, is currently in discussions with investors for a series A financing round. Here’s more from our interview with Hobbs:
How do you plan to use the new funds? “Three main areas: building our visual summarization technology with our algorithm team, making our collaborative photo browsing platform available at scale by adding features like publishing and following lines like a social network, and with that social network functionality we plan to build and support a community of photo enthusiasts and photo browsers on web and mobile.”
How did you come up with the idea? “George (Dy Jr.) and I were working at Post+Beam, an innovation and communication firm, where George ran user experience and I was a founder. Initially, we were approached by a client to see if we could improve photo sharing in families, but what we found was a deeper problem: Our photo libraries are broken and not equipped to deal with the pace of photography today. We applied our idea of an infinitely scrolling Mosaic called “Lines” to a subset of users, targeting who we considered the central photo organizer inside the family. It started to catch on. As we left our private beta and made Linea more widely available, we reached over 200,000 users, which stretched beyond the original audience. We decided to dedicate ourselves full-time to Linea, and hope to bring our disruptive approach to the slideshow to all those passionate about photography, and those who love to view incredible visual stories.”
I see you live in New York City, so why is the company Seattle based? “I’m actually originally from Seattle and my family is still based in Seattle. When we started looking for developers to come on board with Linea I was interested in finding someone who could build the right culture. Jared Phillips and I went to Whitman College together and he has a great track record with creating wonderful startup environments. Once we discovered Corprew Reed, our head of engineering, it was set. We had the right people in Seattle to build out a wonderful team that happened to be in my hometown too (my family is happy about this). It helps that Seattle has a great startup community, but really it came down to having the right people build that team.”
What makes you different from other photo sharing apps? “Yes, we certainly do provide functionality to share photos — and collaborate together to tell stories in what we call Lines — but we believe we are tackling a bigger problem: Fixing our broken photo libraries and viewing tools. Let’s take the example of Instagram: 10 photos a second were added during Hurricane Sandy for 1.3 million photos. How can you possibly get a story out of that using a slideshow? We have reinvented the photo browsing experience for better story telling. The Linea Mosaic scrolls infinitely, you see the best photos in “hero” positions, and supporting photos around it. Stories emerge. Instead of spending time organizing or becoming a database manager for your photos, your time is spent enjoying your photos.”
On why that photo experience matters: “Linea is the only company that is focusing on viewing and visual summarization in one. The result is quick, easy, and beautiful, creating what we consider visual stories on web and mobile. Everyone currently dealing with photos are stuck in a “slideshow metaphor,” which creates a bottleneck between the time a series of photos are taken and when they are viewed. The result becomes the standard photo grid, losing any context of a story.”
Isn’t Flickr addressing some of the issues you are with their new design? “Flickr’s redesign is just that, a redesign. While what they’ve done is put a stronger emphasis on the photos that users are adding to their service and providing fundamental features like increased free storage (Linea provides unlimited storage), nothing has been done to change the visual experience. We don’t believe it solves the core problem of viewing all your photos. The Flickr design doesn’t translate to an album or a photobook, scale across devices, nor does does it employ visual summarization, it is just employing a design. Linea is incredible design plus visual summarization. Their is a metaphor that needs to be changed, and that is the slideshow. We believe that until you change the slideshow metaphor, which Flickr is still well married to, you can’t view, organize, share or print your photos in a one-step, simple, process. Until you apply a layer of smart summarization to their mass quantity of photos, users will be inherently hampered.”
How do you plan to scale this, and what’s stopping a larger player from rolling out a similar service? “We are building a passionate community of photo enthusiasts. As we move from our currently private network to an inherently open social network (where you can follow, collaborate and view photo story lines), we plan to reach not just private photo sharers, but public user generated content, content distributors and verified publishers. In the future, we plan to make our API publicly available so content creators and app developers too can benefit from intelligent photo framing. Our Mosaic design, templates, and algorithm approach are protected by patents that have issued and some that are just about to issue. However, it is more than just a legal barrier that prevents similar services from replicating Linea. We believe it is a metaphor, or mindset, that has to change to imitate what we’ve created. Both the visual design and the process of creating intelligent photo data have to work together to create an amazing experience. This combination is what changes thumbnails, slideshows, and album making into a singular and more visual photo browsing experience.”
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